As we age, a few noticeable signs—like random gray hairs and those pesky fine lines and wrinkles—can begin to show up when we look in the mirror. While those outward signs of aging can be more apparent, there are some internal signs of aging that take place and can be more than just an aesthetic concern.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Nearly everyone’s spinal discs show signs of wear as they age. Not everyone, however, will develop degenerative disc disease. Not really a disease, per se, this is a condition in which a damaged disc causes pain. It can come with a wide range of symptoms and severity.
The discs can be thought of as shock absorbers between the bones of the spine and are designed to help the back stay flexible while resisting significant forces in many different planes of motion. Discs are amazing and each has two parts:
- A firm, tough outer layer, the annulus fibrosus. The outer portion of this layer contains nerves. If the disc tears in this area, it can be quite painful.
- A soft, jellylike core, the nucleus pulposus. This part of the disc contains proteins that can cause the tissues they touch to become swollen and tender. If these proteins leak out to the nerves of the outer layer of the disc, they can cause a great deal of pain.
Unlike other tissues of the body, the disc has a low blood supply. This means when a disc is injured, it cannot repair itself, setting off a spiral of degeneration with three stages that typically occur over 20 to 30 years:
- Acute pain makes normal movement of the back difficult.
- The bone where the injury occurred becomes relatively unstable. Over a long period of time, someone in this condition will have back pain that comes and goes.
- The body attempts to restabilize the injured segment of the back, resulting in fewer bouts of back pain.
- The cycle repeats.
Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease
Sometimes, there are no symptoms. But in other cases, the spine loses flexibility and bone spurs may pinch a nerve root, causing pain or weakness. If you have degenerative disc disease, you may experience your pain in the legs, thighs, buttocks, back or even neck. Some people describe the feeling of pins and needles or reduced sensation in these same areas.
How Do We Treat Degenerative Disc Disease?
Getting your back pain under control—no matter the source—requires exercise to increase the strength and flexibility of muscles that surround and support the spine. Exercising increases blood flow to the back, which nourishes joints and muscles with oxygen and nutrients while clearing away destructive inflammatory waste products.
Treatment options to go along with physical therapy and exercises to increase back strength include:
- Medications such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen
- Physical Therapy
- Spinal Injections
- Heat and Cold Therapy
- Spinal Fusion
- Decompression Surgery
- Disc Replacement
At Kalra Brain & Spine, you’re in good hands. Dr. Kalra specializes in the most up-to-date, evidence-based neurological care. He has helped countless people get out of pain and regain their lives. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described here or have unexplained pain (even if you’ve seen other doctors and still have not found relief), we’d love to meet with you to see if we can help. Schedule an appointment today.